Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was stabbed Friday as he was about to give a lecture in western New York, authorities said. The 75-year-old author was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen, officials said during a Friday evening press conference. His agent later said he has been placed on a ventilator and will likely lose an eye.
Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was identified as the suspect in the stabbing, Major Eugene J. Staniszewski of the New York State Police told reporters. He had a pass to access the grounds, just like the others who were in the audience, officials said.
Matar was taken into custody by a state trooper assigned to the event, he added.
Authorities believe he acted alone and are working to determine a motive for the attack.
Rushdie’s agent said Friday night that the author is currently on a ventilator and cannot speak. He said Rushdie will likely lose an eye, adding that the nerves in his arm were “severed” and his liver was “stabbed and damaged.”
An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storm the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin attacking Rushdie as he was being introduced. Rushdie was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was restrained.
Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest. Officials said a doctor who was in the audience helped care for Rushdie while they waited for EMTs to arrive.
Rushdie’s agent confirmed Friday afternoon that he was in surgery.
Staniszewski said that the suspect also attacked another speaker, who suffered a minor face injury. He was taken to a hospital and has been released, Staniszewski said.
Video said to be of the aftermath of the attack was posted on social media.
Hundreds of people in the audience gasped at the sight of the attack and were then evacuated.
“Our thoughts are with Salman & his loved ones following this horrific event,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted after the attack.
Rushdie was at the event to discuss “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the Chautauqua Institution.
Video posted to Twitter appeared to show Rushdie being taken to a medical helicopter.
Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year later, Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the reward. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about his experience living under the fatwa.
In 2015, Rushdie addressed the killings of 12 people at the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying the right to free speech is absolute or else it isn’t free.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan released a statement condemning the attack on Friday night, writing that “this act of violence is appalling.”
“All of us in the Biden-Harris Administration are praying for his speedy recovery,” Sullivan said. “We are thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping Mr. Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for its swift and effective work, which is ongoing.